Link finds himself as an apprentice engineer for the royal railroads and Zelda takes one of her most up-front roles in a Zelda game for a long time
The most curious thing about the success, and undoubted quality, of the Zelda games is that we know exactly what we’re going to get. Let’s call a spade a spade here and acknowledge that every version of the game is essentially the exact same format, delivered the exact same way and with almost the exact same weapons and abilities as the game that preceded it. It tends be only when a new Nintendo system arrives that we see any wholesale changes to the overall look and feel of any new Zelda game.
Of course I feel obliged to point out that although this sounds like I’m having a go at the series (and in the case of any other game on the planet, I would be), but I’m honestly not. It’s just an observation that I’ve always found a little strange, given the fact that despite it all the games are still top notch, time and time again – and as you may have already guessed, Spirit Tracks continues that trend comfortably.
Set around a hundred years after the events of 2007’s The Phantom Hourglass, Link finds himself as an apprentice engineer for the royal railroads and Zelda takes one of her most up-front roles in a Zelda game for a long time. After an eventful run-in with a bad guy, she finds herself accompanying Link in spirit form as the pair try to get to the bottom of the mysterious disappearance of the titular Spirit Tracks – magical railroads which serve the dual purpose of providing handy transport around Hyrule and beyond, and sealing away a nasty evil force.
As touched upon earlier, if you’ve played The Phantom Hourglass then you’re going to be immediately familiar with almost every facet of Spirit Tracks, from the cel-shaded visual style to some of the musical motifs to stylus oriented control system to the convenient similarities between the mode of transport of choice (in The Phantom Hourglass Link made his way around the game world by virtue of an upgradable boat, here it’s a train... obviously). Those of you who haven’t played the predecessor don’t worry; it’s a doddle to pick up.
So now that we know what features are the same as the previous game, the most important thing to focus on is what’s different! Well most importantly of all, the whole pacing of the game has changed for the better. The Phantom Hourglass had a tendency to feel a little drawn out in places, and some of the dungeons could feel like they went on forever – thankfully this is never an issue in Spirit Tracks, as even the longer Temples aren’t as time consuming as their PH counterparts.
More importantly, the puzzles have been given a little more attention this time around. In previous games they tended to make use of whatever item you had just collected for about five minutes, and then completely forget that it existed, leaving you wondering what the point was. This time around there has clearly been a lot of thought put into keeping the puzzles fresh, as well as the new weapons as useful as possible. The third main difference is that Zelda can now take control of the Phantom creatures you’ll encounter in many of the dungeons, opening the game up to puzzles which need both characters to be utilised in order to be completed.
Although the changes might not be immediately apparent, they make a huge difference to the fun factor of the game, and when added to the hugely satisfying ending and entertaining multiplayer (WLAN only though, no WiFi... why Nintendo?! WHY!?) you’re left with is probably the best Zelda game since Ocarina. This is an essential purchase.